Cholesterol… it is one of the words we really don’t like to hear as we get older but it plays a significant role in our overall health.
It is important to note that cholesterol is actually very important for many bodily functions and is required for many chemical reactions in the body1.
However, when the body contains too much cholesterol, or cholesterol goes to inappropriate places in the body where it typically is not needed, this is when problems can arise.
There are several medications that exist that can be used to lower cholesterol, but are there ways that cholesterol can be lowered naturally?
A key factor in lowering cholesterol is increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood.
This is because HDL tends to move cholesterol to places it is needed2, whereas high levels of LDL can cause buildup of cholesterol on blood vessel walls, which can ultimately lead to clogged arteries3.
Here, we’ll break down some of the best natural methods that have been shown to lower cholesterol so you can try and take control of your health.
Make Sure Your Fats Are Polyunsaturated
There is evidence that swapping out saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats in the diet can actually reduce the amount of LDL in the blood by about 10%4.
In doing so, this type of fat can help reduce the impact of cholesterol getting into the not-so-good places like the walls of your blood vessels.
At the same time, it was found that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats reduced the risk of coronary artery disease by roughly 20% in a study of over 13,000 adults5.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the best kinds of polyunsaturated fats that are commonly found in various types of seafood like salmon, herring, mackerel, and bluefin tuna6,7.
You can also find omega-3 fatty acids jam-packed into an efficient daily supplement.
Stay Away from Trans Fats
Trans fats are typically used to enhance the outcome of baked goods like pastries and cookies due to their specific biomolecular makeup.
But, because of this slight alteration in their makeup, the body has a hard time handling them properly. In fact, rodent studies have shown that consumption of trans fats can directly stimulate inflammation, particularly within the intestine8.
Over time, it is thought that persistent inflammation can contribute to gastrointestinal complications like inflammatory bowel disease9.
Unfortunately, these trans fats have also been found to increase LDL and decrease HDL10,11, thereby increasing the risk of forming atherosclerotic plaques (this is basically the medical term for cholesterol sticking to the walls of your arteries).
Regardless of whether the packaging of a particular food item says 0 grams trans fat, there is still a possibility that it will contain trans fat. This is because companies are allowed to round down to 0 grams if a serving contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat12.
To be sure for your own health, read the ingredients; if you see partially hydrogenated anywhere within the list of ingredients, you can be sure there are trans fats in that product13.
Try your best to avoid these kinds of foods if you’re becoming conscientious about your cholesterol.
Eat More Fiber
Specifically, soluble fiber.
This is a type of fiber that humans are unable to digest. Rather, your gut is filled with several strains of helpful bacteria which require soluble fiber to survive and which use it to maintain your gut health14.
These bacteria are called probiotics, and they are known to reduce lipoproteins that are associated with the bad effects of cholesterol, including LDL15.
Because probiotics are helpful in reducing the bad cholesterol, you may even want to include a probiotic supplement in your daily regimen to maintain and/or optimize your gut flora.
Probiotics can also be found in various types of yogurts and other dairy products as well.
But enough about probiotics…what sort of benefits can fiber have?
In one study, simply taking 3 grams of soluble fiber every day for 3 months reduced LDL by almost 20%16.
Astoundingly, another study found that individuals supplementing with a psyllium-containing product that is high in fiber (e.g. Metamucil, etc...) enhanced the effects of simvastatin, a drug used to lower cholesterol.
The effects of fiber in this study were so powerful that combining the psyllium product with a lower dose of simvastatin was just as effective as using a significantly higher dose of the cholesterol-lowering drug on its own17.
While all of these tips involve some sort of adjustment to diet, it is also important to consider other lifestyle changes that can help reduce bad cholesterol (i.e., LDL and very-low density lipoprotein or VLDL).
One important consideration that should be combined with dietary adjustments is exercise. Exercise has been shown to directly reduce LDL and increase HDL, thereby improving overall cholesterol levels in the blood18,19,20.
Engaging in a brisk walk or a 15-minute moderate intensity workout every day can significantly boost the effects of these dietary changes on cholesterol levels.
Try it out for yourself, your arteries (as well as your doctor) will thank you!
As always, consults your physician before making any significant changes to your diet and/or lifestyle.